The 17th marked my last day of employment with DynCorp. I flew out in the morning, which was the craziest experience I’ve had yet. I know that a lot of my friends have flown out of crazy small airports, but Kabul, while it’s not that small, was a madhouse. We stood in lines, rode on busses and went through three pat-downs, four metal detectors and immigration checks before we could get on the plane. But after that, it really was a piece of cake. I had a window seat with no window, but no one sitting next to me, so it was a wicked comfortable flight. And a quick one – both of my travel companions noted that the flight seemed to go by quickly. And Dubai International was deserted. I was through immigration in just a few minutes as the people I was traveling with raided the duty-free stores for as much white-trash beer as they could.
Our hotel was right next to the airport, so after a 2 minute drive, I was in the fanciest hotel. The Le Meridien Airport is not just a hotel – it’s a village of crazy goodness. There are 19 restaurants, 7 pools, a spa and dance clubs galore. I, of course, was excited about the dance clubs, because as every one of my friends knows, I’m a sucker for a good dance club.
So my first brilliant idea was to take a walk in Dubai. This was a good idea, I felt, because even from far away, there was so much to see – the amazing skyline and some fun views of suburban life in this city, but I soon found out that one of my favorite movies, “LA Story” should be rewritten as “Dubai Story.” I should have had Steve Martin there to laugh in my face when I said I was going to walk. “A walk in Dubai!” and laughter, should have been there to keep me from wandering off toward downtown. Don’t get me wrong, I did see some interesting things – the strange juxtaposition of a Round Table Pizza and the minarets of a mosque was interesting and cool. The heat was something – about 98 degrees, but with less charm than Nick Lachey. The humidity was about 90% and after a few miles of walking, I was sweating as if I were trying to shower the earth and turn it from desert to green wonderland.
After seeing the sweetest sight of all – the IKEA warehouse – I decided that I really needed to turn around. It was that and the impending heat stroke that was going to reduce me to a quivering mass on the ground. I saw some cool sights on the way back to the hotel, including a little kitten that would have required about a gallon of milk to fatten it up, some guys out in a vacant lot playing cricket, a playground full of Filipino basketball players, and some of the coolest looking train stations I’d ever seen.
When I finally got back to the hotel, I looked a bit worse for wear, and it was Friday night, so everyone was out partying and my rumpled appearance must have dampened the mood a little bit, but I really didn’t care. I needed to take a bath in one of the two bathtubs in my room, and go to bed.
The next day, I was indoors the entire day, waiting on news from the office and by 5 p.m. was ready to get out and see more of the town. I thought that a good idea would be to drive down south of the Burj Kalifa, the tallest building in the world, and walk back toward it – getting the sun as it set right behind.
But the fatal flaw in my plan was that the sun doesn’t set where I want it to, or where I think it might. Another flaw was the humidity. So high that it was almost foggy in the city, my camera, which had been in my air conditioned room for the entire day, was suddenly covered with condensation – even inside the lens and camera body. I stood next to the road for 40 minutes, waiting for all the condensation to evaporate as the camera warmed up. So then, the sun was going down and I was in an unfamiliar place, but I still trekked toward the Burj Kalifa, getting pictures of the amazing buildings going up all the way down the main street of town. Some of the designs are pretty unconventional, and it was fun trying to get pictures of them, but they are so tall that the perspective was enough to make me dizzy.
All along the way, I was forced to walk through some undeveloped areas and I felt completely safe. This was a welcome feeling given the constant feeling of threat that I live under when in Afghanistan. The construction areas are desert. They really are – covered in sand that has wind features on it, just like you see in the desert. There are sections where the sand is full of sea shells because the entire city is built on sand that is so close to the coast that all of it used to be underwater.
Walking up to the Burj Kalifa was an experience in itself. Unlike the Sears Tower or the Empire State Building, this thing is really isolated and sort of a fantasy building. It’s almost science fiction-like the way that it pierces the sky like a glass fang. All of my pictures had to be digitally corrected for perspective – there was no focal length at which the entire expanse of it would stay straight in the picture.
At the base of the tower is the Dubai Mall. Not the biggest in Dubai, it is easily much larger than the Mall of America. Four levels of stores form a huge square, and at each corner of the square is one of four huge features – an indoor ice rink; a 75-foot tall, 300-foot long salt water aquarium where you can take scuba lessons and swim with the sharks; an 80-foot waterfall; and an indoor amusement park. There are stores in this mall for almost every brand you can think of, although the obvious lack of an Apple Store makes the entire building a waste of space.
A short taxi ride back to the hotel and I took a moment to stick my head in the Thai restaurant that is part of the hotel village. I had eaten there the night before, and it made me think of “LA Story” again. Much like after dinner at “L’Idiot,” I was offered floss after finishing my green curry. I had to laugh, but quickly stopped laughing as the live musicians and traditional Thai dancing started. I was really impressed with the way that Dubai is bound and determined to be as awesome as possible without any apologies.
So I’ve got a couple more days here as I wait for the Afghan Consulate to approve my visa. I’ll head straight into Kandahar instead of going to Kabul as I had previously planned. I’ll get to work designing and improving and trying to make the company’s investment in me, waiting in Dubai for so long, worth it. But when I think that it would cost almost three times as much to fly me from Boise to Dubai, I relax a little bit. They are still getting a good deal, and so am I – so no complaints.